The country star, who was in tears as she thanked her fans, tied with rap star Childish Gambino with four wins each, the most of any artist. Childish Gambino, the alter ego of actor Donald Glover, did not attend the ceremony. He also won song and record of the year for “This Is America,” a powerful track about racism and violence that instantly went viral when the music video was released last year.
British pop star Dua Lipa rounded out the major prizes as she picked up the trophy for best new artist; she noted how honored she was to be nominated “alongside so many incredible female artists this year, because I guess this year we’ve really stepped up.” This was a dig at outgoing Grammys president Neil Portnow, who last year received major backlash when he said women should “step up” if they wanted to win more awards.
Below, we ranked all of the performances from the nearly four-hour telecast:
1. Dolly Parton tribute
About an hour into the show, the Grammys got a big dose of country music with a nearly 10-minute tribute to Dolly Parton — who, it should be noted, is such a hard worker that she headlined her own career retrospective medley. Musgraves and Katy Perry kicked things off in bedazzled red jumpsuits for “Here You Come Again,” while Parton strolled out stage, glowing in white. “Thank you, Katy, thank you, Kacey, appreciate that,” Parton said, ever polite, as her goddaughter Miley Cyrus arrived in sparkly gold for “Jolene,” which she has been covering for years.
Then there was the requisite throwback to “After the Gold Rush” with Cyrus and Maren Morris (Parton won a Grammy in 2000 for her version of the Neil Young song with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris) and “Red Shoes,” from the new Netflix movie, “Dumplin'.” But what really got the crowd on its feet was the jaunty rendition of “9 to 5” with Little Big Town, whose soaring harmonies really kicked in with one of the catchiest Parton hits of all time.
2. Brandi Carlile
While many of the night’s performances doubled as showcases for eye-popping sets and complex choreography, Brandi Carlile took a more no-frills approach to performing her anthem “The Joke.” She recently said it’s “an important song at this time and in this country, and I think that that song’s success says more about our nation’s willingness to receive it than it does actually what I’m saying and what I’m doing.”
It’s clear she wanted to clue the audience in on her lyrics. In a clever bit of set design, words to the chorus appeared behind her in perfect script as she sang them, offering a powerful message. “Let them laugh while they can / Let them spin, let them scatter in the wind / I have been to the movies / I’ve seen how it ends / And the joke’s on them.” What really stood out, though, is Carlile’s soaring vocals. Even Post Malone was enraptured, nodding his head along with the tune.
3. Camila Cabello
Want to get everyone excited at the start of what will be a very long awards ceremony? Have Camila Cabello perform “Havana,” backed by trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval with Ricky Martin showing up midway. Yes, the Ricky Martin (whom some of us love more than our own families).
Bright-colored dresses, a “West Side Story”-esque set and lots and lots of choreographed salsa moves — what’s not to love? The one thing we would change: more stage time for Martin and J Balvin, who ended the performance with the irresistible “Mi Gente.”
Do you not know H.E.R.? You will now. Already having won earlier in the night for best R&B performance for “Best Part,” the 21-year-old singer showed an easy command of the Grammy main stage with “Hard Place,” giving us just a good ol’ fashioned, wow-she-can-sing moment. The spotlight shined only on her during the first part of her performance before the lights slowly came up, showing jeans-wearing violinists and backup singers (which, thank you, it’s nice to see performers dressed comfortably for work for a change).
Her smooth vocals at times were reminiscent of Alicia Keys, who lovingly introduced her, and then H.E.R. let a solo effortlessly rip on a transparent guitar. As she closed, singing “I’m caught between your love,” she took a big pause, and we heard “sing it, girl” from the audience — one of the few unscripted, honest responses we heard during the performances — before she expertly finished, “and a hard place.”
5. Travis Scott
Travis Scott showed up just when the long ceremony desperately needed a shot of adrenaline — and that’s exactly what he offered. The performance started quietly, with Scott and James Blake crooning “Stop Trying to be God.” Then things got … interesting. To perform “No Bystanders,” Scott somehow appeared in the middle of a cage as people rushed the stage and began scaling it. Was this a political statement about the border and walls? (We’re probably projecting here.) The flock of fans onstage was going bananas, dancing as hard as one possibly could and putting to shame the actual audience in the pit. Scott continued rapping, scaling the fence himself, diving into the crowd and finishing out his song — waking up a crowd that may have been dozing off.
6. Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys should just cover everyone else’s songs for the rest of the night. Did we expect a performance from her at a made-up piano bar called “Club Keys?” (Get it? Keys? Her name? Musical keys? Moving on). No, we did not see this coming. But we’re glad it came.
Keys started off by playing two pianos at once — the gimmick immediately got us — and then covered a bunch of songs. “You know those songs that just live inside of you?” she said, “that you wish you wrote?” (Um, yes, imagine the royalties!) She performed snippets of: Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”; Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams (Forget Me)”; Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”; Coldplay’s “Clocks”; King of Leon’s “Use Somebody”; Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” (which was a shock to Mai, who sat flabbergasted in the audience); and Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing),” before closing out with her own megahit, “New York.” It was thoroughly enjoyable — and talk about range. Now, back to hosting.
7. Lady Gaga
The first indication that Lady Gaga, not Ally from “A Star Is Born,” showed up to sing “Shallow”? That incredibly glittery jumpsuit. Without her singing partner Bradley Cooper (he was at the BAFTAs), Gaga was solo for the Oscar-nominated movie’s signature ballad. She writhed around with a microphone, making some truly wild gestures as she roamed the stage next to co-writer Mark Ronson.
One downside: The person operating the camera inexplicably decided to zoom in on one of the band members instead of Gaga when she belted out the chorus for the first time. Luckily, the “AHHHHHaaaaaahhhhHhhHHHHHAAAAAAAAAooooooHHHHHAAAAA” moment later in the song was as glorious as ever.
8. Aretha Franklin tribute
The Grammys booked the right trio to honor Aretha Franklin, who died in August at 76. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams and Fantasia, who both performed at Franklin’s funeral, as well as Andra Day, did the Queen of Soul justice with their take on “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The song came seamlessly after the regular In Memoriam montage, with the three singers standing in the middle of the audience on a small stage. They definitely brought the goods, belting out the lyrics and taking us all to church. But it was too short; has everyone tired of Franklin tributes already? If only the Grammy telecast had blocked off more time for a Franklin send-off — surely Diana Ross could have spared a couple of her minutes.
9. Janelle Monáe
Here comes Janelle Monáe to wake us back up. Known as a performer with very deliberate aesthetic choices, she sang “Make Me Feel” while backed by a bunch of dancers dressed like sexy Stormtroopers and others wearing her famous vagina pants. If anyone watching at home zoned out, her line from “Django Jane” to “let the vagina have a monologue!” probably got their attention. And, of course, there was her own trademark, infectiously joyful dancing while channeling some “Rhythm Nation” vibes. Heck, she even moonwalked.
10. St. Vincent and Dua Lipa
The indie rocker (holding an angular black guitar) and pop singer (donning a high-fashion black and white dress covered in small gold jewelry) teamed up for the steamiest performance of the night, performing “Masseduction” and “One Kiss” while white strobes cut through fog. The two women swirled around each other as they performed — reminding the audience at a fairly sexless award show of music’s sensual side.
11. Jennifer Lopez
Going into the Grammys, there was a lot of criticism about Jennifer Lopez leading a tribute to the 60th anniversary of Motown Records, as many pointed out that there were black artists who deserved (and would have loved) the high-profile spot. Smokey Robinson, who also performed with J. Lo, hit back with some harsh words: “I don’t think anyone who is intelligent is upset. I think anyone who is upset is stupid,” he told Variety.
It was clear the Grammys wanted someone who could dance, as J. Lo performed a rapid fire, extremely entertaining medley of some of the most famous songs of Motown: “Dancing in the Street,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance).” Robinson joined her for “My Girl,” while Alicia Keys came back out for “Papa Was a Rolling Stone;" afterward, Lopez shimmied on top of the piano with impressive acrobatic moves after “Another Star” with Ne-Yo. She gave a shout-out to Motown artists (“Marvin Gaye! Diana Ross! The Supremes!”), though plenty of critics on social media felt that she still shouldn’t have been given the slot.
12. Chloe x Halle
Chloe x Halle honored the late great Donny Hathaway, who was being recognized with a lifetime achievement award (he died in 1979; his daughter, Lalah, is also a singer and was nominated for several Grammys on Sunday). How to pay tribute with a well-known song without attempting an imitation? Sisters Chloe x Halle showed us how, with a take on “Where Is the Love,” the classic Hathaway and Roberta Flack duet, that was all their own. It was short and sweet. Folks may recognize Chloe x Halle from Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s tour, or more likely, from singing “America the Beautiful” at the Super Bowl.
13. Cardi B
Hip-hop’s reigning queen, sporting a 1920s hairdo, began her performance wearing a velvety purple cape, which she tossed off to reveal a sheer, sparkly catsuit. She ended by donning a giant plume of black peacock feathers, reminding viewers of some characters from “The Little Mermaid.” (Notably: She showed up as Ariel and left as Ursula.) Her set — which she and her fleet of backup dancers sensuously crawled, rolled and danced all over — could best be described as enormous, luxurious couches with a sparkly piano in the center. During the elaborate dance and clothing-change routines, Cardi B appeared to be lip-syncing her way through “Money,” which came off sounding more like the studio version than a live performance. While Cardi can liven up any awards show, we’ve come to expect just a tad bit more energy from her.
14. Dan + Shay
Poor Dan + Shay (the country duo of Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney) had to follow Alicia Keys’s incredible acoustic piano medley, but they more than held their own with a pitch-perfect version of their smash hit “Tequila,” which earlier in the night won best country duo-group performance. Although plenty of snarky people on Twitter compared them to another group of country harmonizers (“Dan and/or Shay is Rascal Flatts Lite but slightly better”; “dan & shay is just vegan rascal flatts”), there was no denying Mooney’s vocal power as he skillfully belted out that final “we get it, you can sing” high note.
15. Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus
The night grew momentarily more serious as Shawn Mendes, clad in a black vest, sat alone at a piano that was covered in cracks. Light poured through those crevices as he began singing his hit ballad, “In My Blood.”
Somber songs aren’t unusual at the Grammys, but subtle performances are. So it was no surprise when Mendes stood up, slung a guitar behind his back and walked down a platform to meet Miley Cyrus, who was wearing a matching blank tank top. The two traded soaring vocals — the sound mixing was excellent — as sparks rained down behind them (“some good ol’ fashioned pyrotechnics,” one Washington Post reporter said).
16. Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves, who won two Grammys before the show even started (best country song for “Space Cowboy” and best country solo performance for “Butterflies”), performed a very literal interpretation of her piano ballad “Rainbow,” standing front and center in a simple white gown with the ROYGBIV colors lighting up the stage behind her. While it was both a lovely and earnest rendition of the song — about not giving up, even when you really want to — it felt a bit too early in the nearly four-hour telecast for such a slow tune.
17. Diana Ross
Well, that was interesting. Diana Ross, who turns 75 on March 26, did what only Diana Ross can do: She just publicly celebrated her own birthday six weeks early in a performance that can be best described as “when I retweet myself.” Alone onstage in a bright red frilly dress, Ross sang “The Best Years of My Life,” ostensibly to herself. She then walked into the audience, where she tried enlisting the crowd for help singing “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” but only Jaden Smith complied. Other audience members simply looked uncomfortable, maybe terrified they’d be handed the mic and not remember the lyrics. Seemingly unfazed, Ross returned to the stage where she gave a short inspirational speech before loudly proclaiming (more than one time), “Happy Birthday to me!”
18. Post Malone and Red Hot Chili Peppers
The night’s first major misstep came with the (supposed) collaboration between sleepy-eyed “rapper” Post Malone and Southern California’s kings of funk-rock, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The only problem was it wasn’t a collaboration at all.
The performance started with Malone sitting alone on a stool and strumming an acoustic guitar under a single spotlight while singing his tired song “Stay,” which was clearly supposed to be a capital-S Serious moment but came off as an amateur at an open mic night. He then transitioned into rapping his hit song “Rockstar” while walking down a poorly lit hallway that (for some reason) ended in a giant fan. This should have been his serious moment, as 21 Savage — who was recently arrested by ICE for overstaying his visa — is featured on the song. But Malone made no gesture to the rapper.
Malone then grabbed an electric guitar and joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a rendition of “Dark Necessities.” Flea furiously strummed his bass, and frontman Anthony Kiedis gave an impassioned performance — but one that still fell short. The most interesting part was probably when Kiedis shed his shirt. (And while some might think he was taking a page out of Adam Levine’s playbook when he discarded his top, our pop music critic Chris Richards reminded us: “ANTHONY KIEDIS INVENTED NO SHIRT ENERGY.”)